South Coast reflection

We caught our first glimpse of what was to come on the journey itself. Plumes of red smoke covered the sky as we travelled via bus from Canberra to Bega.

Many faces were brought close to the glass, phones in hands. As we drew nearer the smoke, some on the bus broke into coughing fits.

The four of us had never been so close to bushfires before, yet this was an experience South Coast locals had become accustomed to. The next day we discovered that the road we had travelled on – the Monaro Highway – had closed shortly after we passed through.


The view from the bus of the ACT’s “monster” Orroral fire (Image: Lanie Tindale)

The first night we stayed in Bega we were surprised to learn it would be a big night – the New Year’s Eve “redo” at the Commercial Hotel. Our first real glimpse of how Bega is “adapting”. As many of the locals were fighting fires over the New Year, the party was moved to the 31st of January.

The music was loud and thumping, and the atmosphere lively. It was clear that this night was a much-needed break.  A moment of normality amid the harsh reality of a changing climate.

During our time in Bega, a persistent smoke cover hung low over the sky; giving all the photos we took an orange or white, apocalyptic tinge. We avoided staying outside for long periods of time, as the longer we spent outside, our throats began to feel dry breathing in the acrid smoke.

A firey dawn outside Bega’s Commercial Hotel (Photo: Hanchi Nguyen)

While looking for somewhere indoors, we came across children who were sitting in a bookstore, staying out of the heat. They chatted amongst themselves and shared around a box of ice creams, yet they were visibly agitated with being kept indoors all day. They told us how they started school three days before but had been kept inside during lunchtime.  With all the natural beauty of the landscape of Bega to enjoy, it must have seem a far cry from their normal freedoms.

We found that rebuilding is a constant in the Bega Valley. Along winding roads shrouded in smog we saw newly built fences, and construction already underway on the homes that had been burned down.

One of the homes destroyed during the Bega Valley’s bushfires.(Photo: Hanchi Nguyen)

This summer, Bega has been on the frontline of the changing climate and the way that was discussed felt far more urgent and personal than we were used to. This felt like another world to Sydney where often the depth of the discussion is a series of “what ifs”.  What if the fires were closer to us?  What if the smoke was coming from next door and not 100kms away?

The immediate need for solutions was palpable in the continuing fight to protect land and lives. A resilience becoming increasingly necessary in Australia’s  changing climate .

— Isabella Garrido @bellagarrido

*Fetured image: A smoky red dawn as the team prepares for an early morning visit to Cobargo. (Photo: Hanchi Nguyen)